Little girls wear pastel cotton dresses made by Feltman Brothers that flare out to show their funny little knees, and they wear round-toed black patent leather shoes held by a single strap, with their frilly white socks, and their hair hanging down in curls with a pink ribbon on top. That was my girls.
And it was Sunday, and they were going to church to sit still as a mouse, and one rubs her tongue tip curiously at the place where she had just lost a tooth. And little girls sit on pews and lean their cheeks tenderly against their dear father’s side while his hand toys with the silken locks and his voice sings beautiful songs. That was my girls.
And little girls are fraidy-cats and try the water with one toe on sunny winter days at the beach, and when the surf makes a surprising leap and splashes their thighs with the tingle and cold, they squeal and jump up and down on thin little legs like stilts. That was my girls.
Little girls get a smudge of soot on the end of the nose when they roast wieners over the campfire on a backpacking trip and you—for you are the Daddy and do not get soot on your nose—point your finger and sing, “Sooty-Face, Sooty-Face, you are so sooty, Nah, nah, na, Na, nah!”
And then one day when you sing it, the little girls don’t say a thing back the way they always had, but turn their big brown eyes on you, out of the thin, smooth face, and their lips quiver an instant so that you think they might cry even though they are too big for that now, and as the eyes keep fixed on you, the grin dries up on your face, and you turn quickly away and pretend to be getting some more wood. That was my girls.
Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. Songwriter friends were writing lyrics for my little girls. And they sang Boys Have All The Fun and when given a chance to go anywhere in the world with Dad on their fourteenth birthday one little girl chose to go camping in an off-the-grid homesteader’s hut in the rugged outback of Alaska. And the other decided to go backpacking in grizzly bear country in the mountain wilderness of Montana.
One girl holds tight as we watch Humpback whales soar in Resurrection Bay so close we could feel the cold splash. In wide-eyed wonder, we exalt our luck. The other holds on to my hands for dear life as we dare each other and plunge into an icy glacier lake. We laugh at our bravery and shiver for hours. That was my girls.
And those little girls grew, one loved rock climbing, and another loved running. And later the boulderer went to cotillion and learned proper southern manners and how to dance and hold her tea. And the body of the runner developed, and racing turned to cheerleading. And the pockets of frogs and jars full of bugs became sweet little boys full of kisses and hugs. That was my girls.
All the bright days by the water with the gulls flashing high were My Girls. But I didn’t know it. And all the not bright days with the gutters dripping or the storm driving in from the ocean and with the nose pressed to the window were My Girls, too. And I didn’t know that.
The camping trips and wild adventures in the rugged Northwest were My Girls. The night rendezvous counting falling stars while stretched out on a sleeping bag in a country meadow far away from the lights of the city was My Girl. The twirling and whirling dance in the majestic ballroom on the USS Norway in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was My Girl. The magical dates where my job was to ask questions and then listen in wonder to the endless chatter for the rest of the evening were My Girls.
“I’m the Dad that’s why” would be the answer to frustrated screams. That was my girls. And just as I was beginning to know them, came the time when my girls drove off into the sunset. But I knew that.
Around my fortieth year, My Girls turned sixteen. They certainly were not now little girls wearing round-toed, black patent-leather flat-heeled slippers held on by one strap topped with frilly socks. They were wearing white linen dresses, cut very straight, and the straightness of the cut and the stiffness of the linen did nothing in the world but suggest by a kind of teasing paradox that My Girls were becoming young ladies. Sugar and spice and all things nice.
Those big girls had their hair in a fancy knot on the nape of their neck with a little white ribbon on their head and they smiled at me with a smile which I had known all my life but which was entirely new, saying, “Goodbye, Dad,” while I held their strong narrow hands in mine and knew that summer had come. It had come and was not like any summer which ever had been or was to be again. That was my girls.
* Written on the occasion of my youngest daughter Lauren’s birthday Feb. 21, 2018.